Table of Contents is a ‘Three-Dimensional Publication’

Interior of Table of Contents | Source: Courtesy Image

PORTLAND, United States — With its outdoorsy-meets-grunge aesthetic, this damp city in the forested Pacific Northwest is no glossy fashion capital. But in recent years, Portland’s DIY culture has given rise to a burgeoning artisan economy — comprised of everything from microbreweries to independent bicycle manufacturers — that has helped turn this post-industrial town into something of a hub for urban American cool.

Now, entrepreneurs Joseph Magliaro and Shu Hung have launched an impeccably curated concept store, Table of Contents — stocking progressive fashion brands like Patrik Ervell and Tim Coppens, alongside Max Lamb crockery and Carl Auböck watering cans — just inside the gates of the city’s once blighted Old Town Chinatown district, home to many artist studios and the site of an urban renewal program that includes an “art hostel” being developed by veteran Wieden and Kennedy creative director John Jay in collaboration with the Ace Hotel.

“We’ve always been attracted to Chinatowns,” said Magliaro, who, with Hung, has lived in New York, Beijing and Berlin before coming to Portland in 2008. “There’s a kind of entrepreneurial spirit that seems to be woven into the notion of Chinatown that we identify with.”

When BoF visited Table of Contents, on a rainy Saturday, the store was calm and filled with a carefully edited array of fashion, accessories, furniture, rare books and design objects, mostly made by niche brands and artfully placed around the self-designed, 1350-square-foot space. Among the offerings were soft leather pouches by Los Angeles-based Otaat, mohair sweaters by Berlin-based knitwear designers Maiami, ceramic necklaces by Object and Totem, faux fox stoles by Slow And Steady Wins The Race, gold bracelets and finger rings by Uncommon Matters, and brown paper bags refashioned in leather by Los Angeles-based label Marie Turnor, who developed the concept several seasons before Jil Sander.

Exploring the store felt remarkably like reading a set of symbols that, taken together, have a broader story to tell. And indeed, Table of Contents, true to its name, is inspired by the process of editing books and magazines. “Shu and I have both spent time writing for and designing publications, so our approach to developing a retail environment draws on that experience,” said Magliaro. “We’ve tried to create a kind of three-dimensional publication,” he continued. “Each season we develop a theme or organizing principle around which we try to build a collection of disparate, yet related pieces.” For the Autumn/Winter 2012 “issue,” the theme is “action is character,” a fragment from a notebook kept by F. Scott Fitzgerald while working on his unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon.

Magliaro and Hung believe strongly in the physical store experience. “It’s an opportunity to provide customers with a tactile experience with rare, beautiful and significant objects and clothing,” said Magliaro. “We feel that first-hand experience with texture, weight, hue, smell and volume is crucial,” he added.

Yet e-commerce is a critical part of their strategy. “We expect our online shop to account for at least half of our total sales,” said Hung, who is also a digital director at sportswear giant Nike. “Many of the designers we carry have loyal followings around the world and we’re already receiving enquiries from customers across the US and Europe.” Indeed, the global reach of the web means even a niche audience for highly specific products can sustain a profitable business. For example, London’s highly curated LN-CC does what is thought to be around 80 percent of its sales via e-commerce, underscoring the online potential of niche retailers with a strong point of view.

Hung is a long-time friend of Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, founders of mini fashion empire Opening Ceremony, who offered her and Magliaro their support and advice. “Carol was great about answering all of the minutiae about how to run a shop,” says Hung. “But I think her best advice was directed at the larger project: she told us that if we only bring things into the shop that we really love, we’re bound to find others that will feel the same way.” The Internet, where Table of Contents is active on social platforms like Tumblr and Instagram, makes this more true than ever.

As for the future, the duo aim to expand their physical footprint to “a couple of spaces in other cities,” grow their e-commerce offering and experiment with an in-house line of products, including clothing, design objects and furniture. In fact, working with local artisans, Magliaro has already developed a number of interesting homeware products, under the name TOC Studio.

“The shop provides a great place to test out products with a real audience,” he said. “We can get direct feedback on prototypes and when we’ve gone through enough iterations to where we feel like we’ve arrived at something worth bringing to a larger audience, we may try to increase the volume and find larger distribution channels. We’re not in a rush to bring out a full product line, but we’re definitely keen to prototype, produce and ‘publish’ more of our work.”

Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion

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6 comments

  1. The idea of creating a retail space that is inspired by a publication seems to be popular at the moment. That experiential element is becoming increasingly popular as customers become disillusioned by online retail.

  2. Table of Contents is just a knock off of Stand Up Comedy. They knocked of the retail environment, the vendors, and the website. Stand Up Comedy is a long time Portland shop on the less expensive east side. It is a product of innovative taste, a modern aesthetic and hard work. Table of Contents is an imitator flush with cash. As a long time reader of bof I am sad to see it featured here. Portland has many interesting retail shops, this one is to close a semblance to Stand Up Comedy for comfort and to see two unimaginitive shopkeepers gloat as though they cam up with it is unsettling.

    Jen from Portland, OR, United States
  3. To call Table of Contents a knock off and imitator of Stand Up comedy is false. I’ve spent time in both Stand Up Comedy and Table of Contents and have found them to be two separate and different stores, each with their own look and feel. Yes, white walls enclose both stores and they might carry about three overlapping vendors, but this does not mean Table of Contents and Stand Up Comedy are identical. This is equivalent to stating every boutique and concept store in New York is the same. Step inside each and you will find two independent environments. This is also true for their websites. I encourage readers to visit both – http://www.shopstandingup.us and http://www.tableofcontents.us.

    The comment the ‘shopkeepers’ of Table of Contents are gloating and unimaginative is also unfounded. Table of Contents has based their environment off the similarities of editing a magazine; you can see this in the shop by reading a selection of stories detailing information about each piece of clothing, book and object throughout. The stories were all created by the owners, Shu Hung and Joe Magliaro, two extremely talented people, not only a great addition to the Portland retail community, but the Portland creative community. A vision taking eight years to become a reality, the details put into the making of the store are tangible to visitors.

    I’m personally extremely thrilled to see both Stand Up Comedy and Table of Contents in Portland and welcome more distinctive shops to join them. If in the area, visit both. You’ll find two very different shopping experiences.

    Marlina from Beaverton, OR, United States
  4. Unfortunately all the products which are produced/manufactured in China have been ended up as the items which wont last for long in the minds of people from other countries !

  5. Table of Contents may not be a knock off of Stand Up Comedy but certainly SUC has been a great source of “inspiration”. Especially in regards of retail space, buying and the relation created between environment, published work and clothing. Clearly owners Magliaro and Hung have knowledge of the market, valuable connections and capital to put behind their enterprise. Unfortunately right now TOC is a bit of a collage of ideas I saw somewhere else. It lacks of its own identity and a soul that comes from a fresh, authentic point of view. That said, I’m happy they have opened here in Portland, and for the city to get an addition to its retail environment. We certainly need more retailers with a global point of view and true knowledge of the International Fashion Industry. It’s sad though, that a true innovator like Diana Kim, and the ground breaking work she has done for years with Stand Up Comedy, does not get an article on BOF.

    Alex from Portland, OR, United States
  6. Table of Pretense

    Hans Rollo from Federal Way, WA, United States